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About the Institute

Profile of Christoph Licht

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Dr. Christoph Licht

By: Jacob Sintzel

Dr. Christoph Licht, MD

  • Senior Associate Scientist, Cell Biology
  • Staff Physician, Nephrology
  • Associate Professor, Department of Paediatrics

1. Where are you from?/Where did you study?
I’m from Germany. I was born in the southwest in Karlsruhe, Baden, south Heidelberg. That’s where I grew up and went to high school. I went to medical school in Heidelberg University and received my clinical training in Paediatrics at the University Children’s Hospital in Cologne, Germany. I did a postdoctoral research fellowship at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, Texas, and I joined SickKids in 2006.

2. What are you researching right now?
My research focus is on complement-mediated kidney diseases. The complement system is the part of the immune system, which in simple terms, helps the body to clear damaged cells and fight infections. There are two specific diagnoses that stand out: atypical hemolytic uremic syndrome (aHUS) and C3 glomerulopathy (C3G). However, today there is a growing spectrum of diseases, which share complement defects as their underlying cause. My particular research interest is to study the effects of complement activation and complement dysregulation on vascular endothelial cells.

3. Who is your all-time favourite scientist, and why?
My all-time favorite scientist is Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz. Leibnitz was a genius and the last general scientist who was educated in all the science known at his time. As the body of knowledge grew, scientists had to become more specialized in particular areas. Of course, I acknowledge that today scientists have to focus their research and the questions they ask. However, I enjoy leaving the beaten path of my research and asking the question: “Where does my research, my science connect with the research, the science of other scientists?” Scientists who are thinking independently in this way are role-models for me.

4. What in your opinion is the single most important scientific breakthrough, and why?
Over the centuries our approach to medicine / biomedical science moved from holistic, religion-based concepts to a science-driven approach. You will recall, that it was just over 150 years ago that concepts like the one that all organisms are made of cells were developed. Subsequent breakthroughs identified that cells function following principles of physiology and biochemistry, all being encoded by the blueprint of our genes. Our growing insight into genetics as well as our efforts to not only understand, but to also manipulate our genes is probably the most important (recent) breakthrough in science. Our growing insights into genetics has already and will further revolutionize the diagnosis and treatment of diseases and will in the future allow for a truly individualized medicine.

5. What are your major interests outside the lab?
I am the happy and proud father of four kids. That’s my biggest focus outside work. I love reading. I also love both listening to and making music – I like singing and playing the violin. And while I can’t spent enough time on it, I like skiing, swimming and other outdoor activities like hiking. If I had more time, I would travel more – I like people and enjoy exploring new places, ways of living and cultures.

6. Why science?
I think the starting point is curiosity. You must enjoy asking questions and finding answers to them. I enjoy spending my time, especially my professional time, with people who are wired like that — who are creative, who strive for new insights, challenge established concepts. I was always attracted by an academic environment for this reason. I love the exchange with people who are curious – there is nothing nicer than that. And I am deeply grateful for my profession, which combines science and clinical work, a combination, which makes every single day exciting and different from the previous and the next.

7. Why SickKids?
SickKids offers the opportunity to provide cutting-edge clinical care and work with outstanding people who are international leaders in their respective areas. They are trying to move the field forward, creating a stimulating environment for both clinical care and research. The combination of research and clinical care under one roof is priceless. This environment, but also the surroundings of the U of T framework, is an interactive paradise where you can find experts for research collaborations and for clinical problems in almost unlimited ways. It is this amazing environment that brought me to SickKids.

8. What is the most controversial question in your field right now?
In my science, the most controversial question is how to define complement-mediated diseases – as a distinct group of diagnoses with a specific cause and a clear genotype – phenotype correlation, or as a spectrum of diseases sharing the involvement of the complement system in various ways – a point of view I’m leaning towards. How to look, handle and define this question is probably the biggest challenge in my particular field.

9. What are you reading right now?
I am reading All the Light We Cannot See. That’s a book written by Anthony Doerr, a novel taking place during World War II describing the story of a blind girl in German-occupied France. It was highly recommended by a colleague of mine and I like it very much.

10. If you could give one piece of advice to someone considering a research career, what would it be?
To mentees, I usually give two key pieces of advice: The first and most important is, to be honest and find your “love.” You need to have a love story going with science. You have to engage with what you really burn for. Take a step back, pause, think about it. Try to not be influenced by the opinions of others or the circumstances and really identify what you enjoy doing, and then follow that. The second piece of advice is, to not be afraid to stand by your decision despite circumstances that might advise differently. The flipside of the same coin is, to dare to acknowledge if you don’t have a love story with science and it’s not your place to be in.

11. What does the SickKids' Peter Gilgan Centre for Research and Learning (PGCRL) mean to you?
It provides an environment of people who are wired like myself, curious and open-minded, enjoying interaction, trying to move things forward. I think the building is just phenomenal and it really provides everything we as clinician scientists need. In particular, the building really stimulates exchange and thus provides a beautiful environment for our work.

May 2017

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